Historical Marker #903 in Johnson County commemorates Dr. Thomas Walker and his first expedition through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. While on this expedition, Dr. Walker and his companions camped at present-day Paintsville in 1750.
Thomas Walker was born in Virginia on January 25, 1715. Walker became a physician and land speculator for the Loyal Land Company in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When the land company received a grant from Virginia, Dr. Walker organized and led the first exploration of this land in 1750.
Walker and his group entered Kentucky through Cumberland Gap, naming it and the Cumberland River after the Duke of Cumberland. In June, the men crossed Big Paint Creek, near Paintsville. It was here that heavy rains and fallen timber made their path impassable, forcing the men to camp in Johnson County.
On June 7, once it became possible to cross the creek, the party continued on to the main fork of the Big Sandy River, which they named Louisa in honor of the sister of the Duke of Cumberland.
Walker returned to Virginia in July 1750. He served several terms in the Virginia House of Burgesses and remained an agent of the Loyal Land Company until 1775. Walker was a close friend of the Washington and Madison families of Virginia, and even served as Thomas Jefferson's guardian for a short time. In 1768, Walker became commissioner to a congress of the Six Nations of the Iroquois. He also surveyed the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina west to the Tennessee River in 1779-80.
Dr. Thomas Walker died November 9, 1794.